According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the Number 1 cause of death for American adults — accounting for one in every four deaths. With February being National Heart Month, now is the perfect time to focus on beating that statistic. Though genetics can play a role, your diet, blood pressure, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, smoking habits, physical activity and other lifestyle factors all impact your risk for heart disease.
Fortunately, what you eat can make a big difference, and helping your heart can start at the grocery store. To get on the fast track to heart health, add these foods to your shopping cart on your next trip to the supermarket.
Oats and barley are rich in soluble fiber, which may help reduce LDL cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure and decrease your risk for heart disease overall. Enjoy oatmeal for breakfast or blended into a smoothie, and add barley to soup or stew. With plenty of fiber, these whole grains also help you feel satisfied throughout the day.
2. Spinach and Other Leafy Greens
Whether it’s spinach or collards, leafy greens are low in calories to help with weight management and provide calcium, fiber and folate, a nutrient that promotes heart health.
Packed with omega-3 fatty acids, sardines and other oily fish can help you meet your omega-3 needs. According to research, omega-3s may help reduce the risk of heart disease. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend at least 8 ounces of seafood each week with an emphasis on those that provide omega-3s. Though fresh fish is great when available, sardines, canned or frozen salmon, trout and other fatty fish are an easy and flavorful addition to weeknight meals.
4. Fresh (or Frozen) Berries
From blueberries to raspberries, blackberries and more, fresh or frozen berries are a good source of polyphenols, vitamins and fiber, all of which have been shown in research to help reduce the risk of heart disease. Enjoy berries as a snack, tossed into a smoothie or as a fruity topping for toast or oatmeal.
Technically a fruit, avocados are trendy for a good reason. Chock full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, avocados are the perfect way to add creaminess and healthy indulgence to a variety of dishes from breakfast (avocado toast) to dinner (chili or tacos) — and even dessert (mousse!).
Tomatoes, especially when cooked, are a natural source of lycopene, a compound shown to positively impact blood pressure and blood fats — and, in turn, boost heart health. Use tomato sauce to simmer a hearty chili or as the base for your favorite pasta dishes.
Almonds, walnuts, pistachios and other nuts contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats that may help reduce cholesterol levels. Walnuts provide a plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids that may also contribute heart-healthy benefits. Enjoy nuts as a snack, tossed into salads for crunch or ground into a crunchy coating for baked fish or chicken.
Beans and lentils are packed with fiber and protein, and they can make an excellent substitute for meat. Swap in legumes for high-fat meats to make burgers or taco filling. Versatile and inexpensive, pulses are delicious any time of day.
With more than 3 grams of fiber and up to 11% of the daily value for potassium per serving, mushrooms offer a heaping helping of potassium, a mineral that helps lower blood pressure. Mushrooms add savory flavor and a meaty texture to plant-based dishes, which may make it easier to cut back on animal protein.
Though these foods are some of the most common and impactful ones, this list is not by any means comprehensive. Add all forms of fruits and vegetables — from apples, grapes and oranges to broccoli, carrots and Brussels sprouts — to your cart. All of these foods supply important nutrients and can help support a healthy heart. Balance it all out with lean protein from fish to chicken.
With this list in hand, think of the many delicious heart-healthy meals you can create.
Written by Marisa Moore, an Atlanta-based registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in food and nutrition communications. Connect with her on Instagram and Twitter and get her recipes and nutrition tips at marisamoore.com.